Zazen Meditation Definition Essay

Not to be confused with mediation.

This article is about the induction of specific modes or states of consciousness. For other uses, see Meditation (disambiguation).

For bodily positions applied during yoga, see Asana.

Meditation can be defined as a practice where an individual focuses their mind on a particular object, thought or activity to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state.[1] Meditation may be used to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and pain.[2] It may be done while sitting, repeating a mantra, and closing the eyes in a quiet environment.

Meditation has been practiced since antiquity in numerous religious traditions and beliefs. Since the 19th century, it has spread from its Indian origins to Western cultures where it is commonly practiced in private and business life. Meditation is under psychological, neurological, and cardiovascular research to define its possible health effects.

Etymology[edit]

The English meditation is derived from the Latinmeditatio, from a verb meditari, meaning "to think, contemplate, devise, ponder".[3]

In the Old Testament, hāgâ (Hebrew: הגה) means to sigh or murmur, and also, to meditate.[4] When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, hāgâ became the Greek melete. The Latin Bible then translated hāgâ/melete into meditatio.[5] The use of the term meditatio as part of a formal, stepwise process of meditation goes back to the 12th-century monk Guigo II.[6]

Apart from its historical usage, the term meditation was introduced as a translation for Eastern spiritual practices, referred to as dhyānain Buddhism and in Hinduism, which comes from the Sanskrit root dhyai, meaning to contemplate or meditate.[7][8] The term "meditation" in English may also refer to practices from Islamic Sufism,[9] or other traditions such as Jewish Kabbalah and Christian Hesychasm.[10] An edited book about "meditation" published in 2003, for example, included chapter contributions by authors describing Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions.[11][12] Scholars have noted that "the term 'meditation' as it has entered contemporary usage" is parallel to the term "contemplation" in Christianity,[13] but in many cases, practices similar to modern forms of meditation were simply called "prayer". Christian, Judaic, and Islamic forms of meditation are typically devotional, scriptural or thematic, while Asian forms of meditation are often more purely technical.[14]

History[edit]

Main article: History of meditation

The history of meditation is intimately bound up with the religious context within which it was practiced.[15][clarification needed] Some authors have even suggested the hypothesis that the emergence of the capacity for focused attention, an element of many methods of meditation,[16] may have contributed to the latest phases of human biological evolution.[17] Some of the earliest references to meditation are found in the HinduVedas of India.[15] Wilson translates the most famous Vedic mantra "Gayatri" as: "We meditate on that desirable light of the divine Savitri, who influences our pious rites" (Rigveda : Mandala-3, Sukta-62, Rcha-10). Around the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, other forms of meditation developed via Confucianism and Taoism in China as well as Hinduism, Jainism, and early Buddhism in Nepal and India.[15]

In the west, by 20 BCE Philo of Alexandria had written on some form of "spiritual exercises" involving attention (prosoche) and concentration[18] and by the 3rd century Plotinus had developed meditative techniques.

The Pāli Canon, which dates to 1st century BCE considers Buddhist meditation as a step towards liberation.[19] By the time Buddhism was spreading in China, the Vimalakirti Sutra which dates to 100 CE included a number of passages on meditation, clearly pointing to Zen (known as Chan in China, Thiền in Vietnam, and Seon in Korea).[20] The Silk Road transmission of Buddhism introduced meditation to other Asian countries, and in 653 the first meditation hall was opened in Singapore.[21] Returning from China around 1227, Dōgen wrote the instructions for zazen.[22][23]

The Islamic practice of Dhikr had involved the repetition of the 99 Names of God since the 8th or 9th century.[24][25] By the 12th century, the practice of Sufism included specific meditative techniques, and its followers practiced breathing controls and the repetition of holy words.[26] Interactions with Indians, Nepalese or the Sufis may have influenced the Eastern Christian meditation approach to hesychasm, but this can not be proved.[27][28] Between the 10th and 14th centuries, hesychasm was developed, particularly on Mount Athos in Greece, and involves the repetition of the Jesus prayer.[29]

Western Christian meditation contrasts with most other approaches in that it does not involve the repetition of any phrase or action and requires no specific posture. Western Christian meditation progressed from the 6th century practice of Bible reading among Benedictine monks called Lectio Divina, i.e. divine reading. Its four formal steps as a "ladder" were defined by the monk Guigo II in the 12th century with the Latin terms lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio (i.e. read, ponder, pray, contemplate). Western Christian meditation was further developed by saints such as Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila in the 16th century.[30][31][32][33]

Secular forms of meditation were introduced in India in the 1950s as a Westernized form of Hindu meditative techniques and arrived in Australia in the late 1950s[34] and, the United States and Europe in the 1960s. Rather than focusing on spiritual growth, secular meditation emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation and self-improvement.[15][35] Both spiritual and secular forms of meditation have been subjects of scientific analyses. Research on meditation began in 1931, with scientific research increasing dramatically during the 1970s and 1980s.[36] Since the beginning of the '70s more than a thousand studies of meditation in English-language have been reported.[36] However, after 60 years of scientific study, the exact mechanism at work in meditation remains unclear.[15]

Modern definitions[edit]

Definitions and scope[edit]

Definitions or Characterizations of Meditation:
Examples from Prominent Reviews
*
Definition / CharacterizationReview
•"[M]editation refers to a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration"[37]:228–9Walsh & Shapiro (2006)
•"[M]editation is used to describe practices that self-regulate the body and mind, thereby affecting mental events by engaging a specific attentional set.... regulation of attention is the central commonality across the many divergent methods"[38]:180Cahn & Polich (2006)
•"We define meditation... as a stylized mental technique... repetitively practiced for the purpose of attaining a subjective experience that is frequently described as very restful, silent, and of heightened alertness, often characterized as blissful"[39]:415Jevning et al. (1992)
•"the need for the meditator to retrain his attention, whether through concentration or mindfulness, is the single invariant ingredient in... every meditation system"[10]:107Goleman (1988)
*Influential reviews (cited >50 times in PsycINFO[40]),
encompassing multiple methods of meditation.


As early as 1971, Claudio Naranjo noted that "The word 'meditation' has been used to designate a variety of practices that differ enough from one another so that we may find trouble in defining what meditation is."[41]:6 There remains no definition of necessary and sufficient criteria for meditation that has achieved universal or widespread acceptance within the modern scientific community, as one study recently noted a "persistent lack of consensus in the literature" and a "seeming intractability of defining meditation".[42]:135

In popular usage, the word "meditation" and the phrase "meditative practice" are often used imprecisely to designate broadly similar practices, or sets of practices, that are found across many cultures and traditions.[10][43]

Some of the difficulty in precisely defining meditation has been the need to recognize the particularities of the many various traditions.[44] There may be differences between the theories of one tradition of meditation as to what it means to practice meditation.[45] The differences between the various traditions themselves, which have grown up a great distance apart from each other, may be even starker.[45] To accurately define "what is meditation" has caused difficulties for modern scientists. Scientific reviews have proposed that researchers attempt to more clearly define the type of meditation being practiced in order that the results of their studies be made clearer.[44]:499 Taylor noted that to refer only to meditation from a particular faith (e.g., "Hindu" or "Buddhist")

...is not enough, since the cultural traditions from which a particular kind of meditation comes are quite different and even within a single tradition differ in complex ways. The specific name of a school of thought or a teacher or the title of a specific text is often quite important for identifying a particular type of meditation.[46]:2

The table shows several definitions of meditation that have been used by influential modern reviews of research on meditation across multiple traditions. Within a specific context, more precise meanings are not uncommonly given the word "meditation".[47] For example, "meditation" is sometimes the translation of meditatio in Latin. Meditatio is the third of four steps of Lectio Divina, an ancient form of Christian prayer. "Meditation" also refers to the seventh of the eight limbs of Yoga in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a step called dhyāna in Sanskrit. Meditation refers to a mental or spiritual state that may be attained by such practices,[7] and also refers to the practice of that state.

This article mainly focuses on meditation in the broad sense of a type of discipline, found in various forms in many cultures, by which the practitioner attempts to get beyond the reflexive, "thinking" mind[48] (sometimes called "discursive thinking"[49] or "logic"[50]) into a deeper, more devout, or more relaxed state. The terms "meditative practice" and "meditation" are mostly used here in this broad sense. However, usage may vary somewhat by context – readers should be aware that in quotations, or in discussions of particular traditions, more specialized meanings of "meditation" may sometimes be used (with meanings made clear by context whenever possible).

Definitions in "living" dictionaries[edit]

Definitions in the Oxford and Cambridge living dictionaries are "to focus one's mind for a period of time"[51] and "the act of giving your attention to only one thing."[52]

Prayer beads[edit]

Most of the ancient religions of the world have a tradition of using some type of prayer beads as tools in devotional meditation.[53][54][55] Most prayer beads and Christian rosaries consist of pearls or beads linked together by a thread.[53][54] The Roman Catholic rosary is a string of beads containing five sets with ten small beads. Each set of ten is separated by another bead. The Hindu japa mala has 108 beads (the figure 108 in itself having spiritual significance, as well as those used in Jainism and Buddhist prayer beads.[56] Each bead is counted once as a person recites a mantra until the person has gone all the way around the mala.[56] The Muslim misbaha has 99 beads. Specific meditations of each religion may be different.

Religious and spiritual meditation[edit]

Indian religions[edit]

Jainism[edit]

Main article: Jain meditation

In Jainism, meditation has been a core spiritual practice, one that Jains believe people have undertaken since the teaching of the Tirthankara, Rishabha.[57] All the twenty-four Tirthankaras practiced deep meditation and attained enlightenment.[58] They are all shown in meditative postures in the images or idols. Mahavira practiced deep meditation for twelve years and attained enlightenment.[59] The Acaranga Sutra dating to 500 BCE, addresses the meditation system of Jainism in detail.[60]AcharyaBhadrabahu of the 4th century BCE practiced deep Mahaprana meditation for twelve years.[61]Kundakunda of 1st century BCE, opened new dimensions of meditation in Jain tradition through his books Samayasāra, Pravachansar and others.[62] The 8th century Jain philosopher Haribhadra also contributed to the development of Jain yoga through his Yogadṛṣṭisamuccaya, which compares and analyzes various systems of yoga, including Hindu, Buddhist and Jain systems.

Jain meditation and spiritual practices system were referred to as salvation-path. It has three important parts called the Ratnatraya "Three Jewels": right perception and faith, right knowledge and right conduct.[63] Meditation in Jainism aims at realizing the self, attaining salvation, take the soul to complete freedom.[64] It aims to reach and to remain in the pure state of soul which is believed to be pure consciousness, beyond any attachment or aversion. The practitioner strives to be just a knower-seer (Gyata-Drashta). Jain meditation can be broadly categorized to Dharmya Dhyana and Shukla Dhyana.

There exists a number of meditation techniques such as pindāstha-dhyāna, padāstha-dhyāna, rūpāstha-dhyāna, rūpātita-dhyāna, savīrya-dhyāna, etc. In padāstha dhyāna one focuses on Mantra.[65] A Mantra could be either a combination of core letters or words on deity or themes. There is a rich tradition of Mantra in Jainism. All Jain followers irrespective of their sect, whether Digambara or Svetambara, practice mantra. Mantra chanting is an important part of daily lives of Jain monks and followers. Mantra chanting can be done either loudly or silently in mind. Yogasana and Pranayama has been an important practice undertaken since ages. Pranayama – breathing exercises – are performed to strengthen the five Pranas or vital energy.[66] Yogasana and Pranayama balances the functioning of neuro-endocrine system of body and helps in achieving good physical, mental and emotional health.[67]

Contemplation is a very old and important meditation technique. The practitioner meditates deeply on subtle facts. In agnya vichāya, one contemplates on seven facts – life and non-life, the inflow, bondage, stoppage and removal of karmas, and the final accomplishment of liberation. In apaya vichāya, one contemplates on the incorrect insights one indulges, which eventually develops right insight. In vipaka vichāya, one reflects on the eight causes or basic types of karma. In sansathan vichāya, one thinks about the vastness of the universe and the loneliness of the soul.[65]

Acharya Mahapragya formulated Preksha meditation in the 1970s and presented a well-organised system of meditation. Asana and Pranayama, meditation, contemplation, mantra and therapy are its integral parts.[68] Numerous Preksha meditation centers came into existence around the world and numerous meditations camps are being organized to impart training in it.

Buddhism[edit]

Main article: Buddhist meditation


Buddhist meditation refers to the meditative practices associated with the religion and philosophy of Buddhism. Core meditation techniques have been preserved in ancient Buddhist texts and have proliferated and diversified through teacher-student transmissions. Buddhists pursue meditation as part of the path toward awakening and nirvana.[69] The closest words for meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism are bhāvanā,[70]jhāna/dhyāna,[71] and vipassana.

Buddhist meditation techniques have become increasingly popular in the wider world, with many non-Buddhists taking them up for a variety of reasons. There is considerable homogeneity across meditative practices – such as breath meditation and various recollections (anussati) – that are used across Buddhist schools, as well as significant diversity. In the Theravāda tradition alone, there are over fifty methods for developing mindfulness and forty for developing concentration, while in the Tibetan tradition there are thousands of visualization meditations.[72] Most classical and contemporary Buddhist meditation guides are school-specific.[73]

The Buddha is said to have identified two paramount mental qualities that arise from wholesome meditative practice:

  • "serenity" or "tranquility" (Pali: samatha) which steadies, composes, unifies and concentrates the mind;
  • "insight" (Pali: vipassana) which enables one to see, explore and discern "formations" (conditioned phenomena based on the five aggregates).[74]

According to Buddhist theory, through the meditative development of serenity, one is able to weaken the obscuring hindrances and bring the mind to a collected, pliant and still state (samadhi). This quality of mind then supports the development of insight and wisdom (Prajñā) which is the quality of mind that can "clearly see" (vi-passana) the nature of phenomena. According to the Buddhist tradition, all phenomena are to be seen as impermanent, suffering, not-self and empty. When this happens, one develops dispassion (viraga) for all phenomena, including all negative qualities and hindrances and lets them go. It is through the release of the hindrances and ending of craving through the meditative development of insight that one gains liberation.[75]

In the modern era, Buddhist meditation saw increasing popularity due to the influence of Buddhist modernism and the lay meditation based Vipassana movement. The spread of Buddhist meditation to the Western world paralleled the spread of Buddhism in the West. Buddhist meditation has also influenced Western Psychology, especially through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in 1979.[76] The modernized concept of mindfulness (based on the Buddhist term sati) and related meditative practices has in turn led to several mindfulness based therapies.

Hinduism[edit]

See also: Dhyana in Hinduism and Yoga

There are many schools and styles of meditation within Hinduism.[77]

Traditional[edit]

In pre-modern and traditional Hindu religions, Yoga and Dhyana are done to realize union of one's eternal self or soul, one's ātman. In some Hindu traditions, such as Advaita Vedanta this is equated with the omnipresent and non-dualBrahman. In others, such as the dualistic the Yoga school and Samkhya, the Self is referred to as Purusha, a pure consciousness which is separate from matter. Depending on the tradition, this liberative event is referred to as moksha, vimukti or kaivalya.

The earliest clear references to meditation in Hindu literature are in the middle Upanishads and the Mahabharata, the latter of which includes the Bhagavad Gita.[78][79] According to Gavin Flood, the earlier Brihadaranyaka Upanishad refers to meditation when it states that "having become calm and concentrated, one perceives the self (ātman) within oneself".[77]

One of the most influential texts of classical Hindu Yoga is Patañjali's Yoga sutras (c. 400 CE), a text associated with Yoga and Samkhya, which outlines eight limbs leading to kaivalya ("aloneness"). These are ethical discipline (yamas), rules (niyamas), physical postures (āsanas), breath control (prāṇāyama), withdrawal from the senses (pratyāhāra), one-pointedness of mind (dhāraṇā), meditation (dhyāna), and finally samādhi.

Later developments in Hind meditation include the compilation of Hatha Yoga (forceful yoga) compendiums like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the development of Bhakti yoga as a major form of meditation and Tantra. Another important Hindu yoga text is the Yoga Yajnavalkya, which makes use of Hatha Yoga and Vedanta Philosophy.

In the sixth chapter of Bhāvārthadipikā[80] commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita by Sri Jñāneśvar (Dnyaneshwar)[1] meditation in yoga is described as a state caused by the spontaneous awakening of the sacred energy Kundalini (not Prana or Chi), which creates a connection of the individual soul Ātman with universal Spirit - Paramātman.

Modern[edit]

See also: Hindu new religious movements

Meditation in Hinduism has expanded beyond Hinduism to the West.[77] Mantra meditation, with the use of a japa mala and especially with focus on the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, is a central practice of the Gaudiya Vaishnava faith tradition and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishna movement. Other popular New Religious Movements include the Ramakrishna Mission, Vedanta Society, Divine Light Mission, Chinmaya Mission, Osho, Sahaja Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, Oneness University, and Brahma Kumaris.

Sikhism[edit]

Main article: Nām Japō

In Sikhism, simran (meditation) and good deeds are both necessary to achieve the devotee's Spiritual goals;[81] without good deeds meditation is futile. When Sikhs meditate, they aim to feel God's presence and immerge in the divine light.[82] It is only God's divine will or order that allows a devotee to desire to begin to meditate. Guru Nanak in the Japji Sahibdaily Sikh scripture explains:

Visits to temples, penance, compassion and charity gain you but a sesame seed of credit. It is hearkening to His Name, accepting and adoring Him that obtains emancipation by bathing in the shrine of soul. All virtues are Yours, O Lord! I have none; Without good deeds one can't even meditate.[83]

Nām Japnā involves focusing one's attention on the names or great attributes of God.[84] The practices of Simran and Nām Japnā encourage quiet internal meditation but may be practiced vocally in the sangat (holy congregation). Sikhs believe that there are ten "gates" to the body, the nine visible holes (nostrils, eyes, ears, mouth, urethra, anus) and the tenth invisible hole. The tenth invisible hole is the topmost energy level and is called the tenth gate or Dasam Duaar. When one reaches this stage through continuous practice meditation becomes a habit that continues whilst walking, talking, eating, awake and even sleeping. There is a distinct taste or flavour when a meditator reaches this lofty stage of meditation, and experiences absolute peace and tranquility inside and outside the body.

Followers of the Sikh religion also believe that love comes through meditation on the lord's name since meditation only conjures up positive emotions in oneself which are portrayed through our actions. The first Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev Ji preached the equality of all humankind and stressed the importance of living a householder's life instead of wandering around jungles meditating, the latter of which being a popular practice at the time. The Guru preached that we can obtain liberation from life and death by living a totally normal family life and by spreading love amongst every human being regardless of religion.

In the Sikh religion, kirtan, otherwise known as singing the hymns of God is seen as one of the most beneficial ways of aiding meditation,[by whom?] and it too in some ways is believed to be a meditation of one kind.

East-Asian religions[edit]

Taoism[edit]

Main article: Daoist meditation

Taoist or Daoist meditation has a long history, and has developed various techniques including concentration, visualization, qi cultivation, contemplation, and mindfulness meditations. Traditional Daoist meditative practices were influenced by Chinese Buddhism beginning around the 5th century, and later had influence upon Traditional Chinese medicine and the Chinese martial arts.

Livia Kohn distinguishes three basic types of Daoist meditation: "concentrative", "insight", and "visualization".[85]Ding定 (literally means "decide; settle; stabilize") refers to "deep concentration", "intent contemplation", or "perfect absorption". Guan觀 (lit. "watch; observe; view") meditation seeks to merge and attain unity with the Dao. It was developed by Tang Dynasty (618–907) Daoist masters based upon the Tiantai Buddhist practice of Vipassanā "insight" or "wisdom" meditation. Cun存 (lit. "exist; be present; survive") has a sense of "to cause to exist; to make present" in the meditation techniques popularized by the Daoist Shangqing and Lingbao Schools. A meditator visualizes or actualizes solar and lunar essences, lights, and deities within his/her body, which supposedly results in health and longevity, even xian 仙/仚/僊, "immortality".

The (late 4th century BCE) Guanzi essay Neiye "Inward training" is the oldest received writing on the subject of qi cultivation and breath-control meditation techniques.[86] For instance, "When you enlarge your mind and let go of it, when you relax your vital breath and expand it, when your body is calm and unmoving: And you can maintain the One and discard the myriad disturbances. ... This is called "revolving the vital breath": Your thoughts and deeds seem heavenly."[87]

The (c. 3rd century BCE) Daoist Zhuangzi records zuowang or "sitting forgetting" meditation. Confucius asked his disciple Yan Hui to explain what "sit and forget" means: "I slough off my limbs and trunk, dim my intelligence, depart from my form, leave knowledge behind, and become identical with the Transformational Thoroughfare."[88]

Daoist meditation practices are central to Chinese martial arts (and some Japanese martial arts), especially the qi-related neijia "internal martial arts". Some well-known examples are daoyin "guiding and pulling", qigong "life-energy exercises", neigong "internal exercises", neidan "internal alchemy", and taijiquan "great ultimate boxing", which is thought of as moving meditation. One common explanation contrasts "movement in stillness" referring to energetic visualization of qi circulation in qigong and zuochan "seated meditation",[89] versus "stillness in movement" referring to a state of meditative calm in taijiquan forms.

Iranian religions[edit]

Bahá'í Faith[edit]

In the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith, meditation along with prayer are both primary tools for spiritual development[90] and mainly refer to one's reflection on the words of God.[91] While prayer and meditation are linked, where meditation happens generally in a prayerful attitude, prayer is seen specifically as turning toward God,[92] and meditation is seen as a communion with one's self where one focuses on the divine.[91]

The Bahá'í teachings note that the purpose of meditation is to strengthen one's understanding of the words of God, and to make one's soul more susceptible to their potentially transformative power,[91] more receptive to the need for both prayer and meditation to bring about and maintain a spiritual communion with God.[93]

Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the religion, never specified any particular form of meditation, and thus each person is free to choose their own form.[90] However, he specifically did state that Bahá'ís should read a passage of the Bahá'í writings twice a day, once in the morning, and once in the evening, and meditate on it. He also encouraged people to reflect on one's actions and worth at the end of each day.[91] During the Nineteen Day Fast, a period of the year during which Bahá'ís adhere to a sunrise-to-sunset fast, they meditate and pray to reinvigorate their spiritual forces.[94]

Secular applications[edit]

Meditation may be for a religious purpose, but even before being brought to the West it was used in secular contexts. Beginning with the theosophists, meditation has been employed in the West by a number of religious and spiritual movements, such as yoga, New Age and the New Thought movement.

Meditation techniques have also been used by Western theories of counseling and psychotherapy. Relaxation training works toward achieving mental and muscle relaxation to reduce daily stresses. Jacobson is credited with developing the initial progressive relaxation procedure. These techniques are used in conjunction with other behavioral techniques. Originally used with systematic desensitization, relaxation techniques are now used with other clinical problems. Meditation, hypnosis and biofeedback-induced relaxation are a few of the techniques used with relaxation training. One of the eight essential phases of EMDR (developed by Francine Shapiro), bringing adequate closure to the end of each session, also entails the use of relaxation techniques, including meditation. Multimodal therapy, a technically eclectic approach to behavioral therapy, also employs the use of meditation as a technique used in individual therapy.[95]

From the point of view of psychology and physiology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness.[96] Such altered states of consciousness may correspond to altered neuro-physiologic states.[97]

Today, there are many different types of meditation practiced in western culture. Mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving kindness meditations for instance have been found to provide cognitive benefits such as relaxation and decentering. With training in meditation, depressive rumination can be decreased and overall peace of mind can flourish. Different techniques have shown to work better for different people.[98]

As stated by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a US government entity within the National Institutes of Health that advocates various forms of Alternative Medicine, "Meditation may be practiced for many reasons, such as to increase calmness and physical relaxation, to improve psychological balance, to cope with illness, or to enhance overall health and well-being."[99]

Sound-based meditation[edit]

Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School conducted a series of clinical tests on meditators from various disciplines, including the Transcendental Meditation technique and Tibetan Buddhism. In 1975, Benson published a book titled The Relaxation Response where he outlined his own version of meditation for relaxation.[100] Also in the 1970s, the American psychologist Patricia Carrington developed a similar technique called Clinically Standardized Meditation (CSM).[101] In Norway, another sound-based method called Acem Meditation developed a psychology of meditation and has been the subject of several scientific studies.[102]

Biofeedback has been used by many researchers since the 1950s in an effort to enter deeper states of mind.[103]

Abrahamic religions[edit]

Judaism[edit]

Main article: Jewish meditation

There is evidence that Judaism has had meditative practices that go back thousands of years.[104][105] For instance, in the Torah, the patriarch Isaac is described as going "לשוח" (lasuach) in the field—a term understood by all commentators as some type of meditative practice (Genesis 24:63).[106]

Similarly, there are indications throughout the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) that meditation was used by the prophets.[107] In the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words for meditation: hāgâ (Hebrew: הגה‎), which means to sigh or murmur, but also to meditate, and sîḥâ (Hebrew: שיחה‎), which means to muse, or rehearse in one's mind.[108]

Some meditative traditions have been encouraged in the school of Judaism known as Kabbalah, and some Jews have described Kabbalah as an inherently meditative field of study.[109][110] Aryeh Kaplan has argued that, for the Kabbalist, the ultimate purpose of meditative practice is to understand and cleave to the Divine.[108] Classic methods include the mental visualisation of the supernal realms the soul navigates through to achieve certain ends. One of the best known types of meditation in early Jewish mysticism was the work of the Merkabah, from the root /R-K-B/ meaning "chariot" (of God).[108]

Meditation has been of interest to a wide variety of modern Jews. In modern Jewish practice, one of the best known meditative practices is called "hitbodedut" (התבודדות, alternatively transliterated as "hisbodedus"), and is explained in Kabbalistic, Hasidic, and Mussar writings, especially the Hasidic method of Rabbi Nachman of Breslav. The word derives from the Hebrew word "boded" (בודד), meaning the state of being alone.[111] Another Hasidic system is the Habad method of "hisbonenus", related to the Sephirah of "Binah", Hebrew for understanding.[112] This practice is the analytical reflective process of making oneself understand a mystical concept well, that follows and internalises its study in Hasidic writings.

The Musar Movement, founded by Rabbi Israel Salanter in the middle of the nineteenth-century, emphasized meditative practices of introspection and visualization that could help to improve moral character.[113]

Christianity[edit]

Main articles: Christian meditation, Aspects of Christian meditation, Contemplative prayer, Hesychasm, and Theoria

Christian meditation is a term for a form of prayer in which a structured attempt is made to get in touch with and deliberately reflect upon the revelations of God.[115] The word meditation comes from the Latin word meditari, which means to concentrate. Christian meditation is the process of deliberately focusing on specific thoughts (e.g. a biblical scene involving Jesus and the Virgin Mary) and reflecting on their meaning in the context of the love of God.[116]

The Rosary is a devotion for the meditation of the mysteries of Jesus and Mary.[117][118]“The gentle repetition of its prayers makes it an excellent means to moving into deeper meditation. It gives us an opportunity to open ourselves to God’s word, to refine our interior gaze by turning our minds to the life of Christ. The first principle is that meditation is learned through practice. Many people who practice rosary meditation begin very simply and gradually develop a more sophisticated meditation. The meditator learns to hear an interior voice, the voice of God”.[119]

Christian meditation contrasts with Eastern forms of meditation as radically as the portrayal of God the Father in the Bible contrasts with depictions of Krishna or Brahman in Indian teachings.[120] Unlike Eastern meditations, most styles of Christian meditations do not rely on the repeated use of mantras, and yet are also intended to stimulate thought and deepen meaning. Christian meditation aims to heighten the personal relationship based on the love of God that marks Christian communion.[121][122]

In Aspects of Christian meditation, the Catholic Church warned of potential incompatibilities in mixing Christian and Eastern styles of meditation.[123] In 2003, in A Christian reflection on the New Age the Vatican announced that the "Church avoids any concept that is close to those of the New Age".[124][125][126]

Christian meditation is sometimes taken to mean the middle level in a broad three stage characterization of prayer: it then involves more reflection than first level vocal prayer, but is more structured than the multiple layers of contemplation in Christianity.[127]

In Frankfurt, Germany in 2007 the Centre for Christian Meditation and Spirituality in the Holy Cross Church, Frankfurt-Bornheim was founded by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Limburg. In and by the centre different kinds of church services are offered like for example with elements such as expressionist dance, moreover days of exercises of Christian mysticism, contemplative prayer, meditative singing, meditation courses, Zen-meditation courses, days of reflection, spiritual exercises and retreats[128]

Early studies on states of consciousness conducted by Roland Fischer [129] found evidence of mystical experience description in the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila. In her autobiography she describes that, at the peak of a praying experience "... the soul neither hears nor sees nor feels. While it lasts, none of the senses perceives or knows what is taking place".[130] This corresponds to the fourth stage described by Saint Teresa, "Devotion of Ecstasy", where the consciousness of being in the body disappears, as an effect of deep transcendent meditation in prayer.

Islam[edit]

Main articles: Sufi, Muraqaba, Sema, and Dhikr § Sufi view

Remembrance of God in Islam, which is known by the concept Dhikr is interpreted in different meditative techniques in Sufism or Islamic mysticism.[24][25] This became one of the essential elements of Sufism as it was systematized traditionally. It is juxtaposed with fikr (thinking) which leads to knowledge.[131] By the 12th century, the practice of Sufism included specific meditative techniques, and its followers practiced breathing controls and the repetition of holy words.[26]

Numerous Sufi traditions place emphasis upon a meditative procedure which comes from the cognitive aspect to one of the two principal approaches to be found in the Buddhist traditions: that of the concentration technique, involving high-intensity and sharply focused introspection. In the Oveyssi-Shahmaghsoudi Sufi order, for example, this is particularly evident, where muraqaba takes the form of tamarkoz, the latter being a Persian term that means concentration. Meditative quiescence is said to have a quality of healing, and—in contemporary terminology—enhancing creativity.[132]

Tafakkur or tadabbur in Sufism literally means reflection upon the universe: this is considered to permit access to a form of cognitive and emotional

Man Meditating in a Garden Setting
Buddhist monk meditating in a waterfall setting

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Karma Lekshe Tsomo
Professor, Theology & Religious Studies, University of San Diego

Master [Hui-an] asked [Huai-jang], "Where are you coming from?"
Huai-jang said, "Mount Sung."
The Master said, "What sort of thing comes here like this?"
Huai-jang said, "To call it a 'thing' is to miss the mark."
The Master said, "Can it be cultivated or experienced?"
Huai-jang said, "It's not that it isn't cultivated or experienced, but rather that it isn't corrupted or defiled."
The Master said, "It's just because it isn't corrupted or defiled that it's treasured by all buddhas. You're like this. And I'm like this."
-- The Platform Sutra


"In 1982, when I received full ordination as a bhikkhuni (fully ordained Buddhist nun) in Pusan, Korea, the senior nun among the ordination masters was a remarkable master named Hye Chun Sunim. Born into a family of privilege in 1918 in northern Korea, her life was turned upside down by war in the early 1950s. When she traveled south as a refugee, she found solace in a Buddhist monastery and decided to become a nun. Determined to reach enlightenment, she went through unimaginable hardships to gain acceptance as a disciple of Songchol Sunim, the most famous Zen (Korean: Soen) master of her day – something unheard of for nuns at the time.

When I met Hye Chun Sunim one afternoon in a sparse tatami room at the monastery, she asked my name, in a very formal manner. I responded that my name was He Gong (Wisdom of Emptiness), a Korean name that had just been given to me by Kusan Sunim, the most renowned Zen master alive at that time. Suddenly, I heard my name ring out through the room: 'He Gong!' Startled, I responded, and she then asked, 'Who responded when I called your name?' The popular Korean koan ('What is this?') calls us to wake up to the moment and attend to whatever we are experiencing in the moment. Ultimately, it calls us to question the nature of the self. When the master called 'He Gong!' she called me to question my very identity. Wake up! Pay attention! Who are you anyway?!?"

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